City staff are recommending denial of a request to build field-level suite boxes at Breese Stevens Field for soccer games.
The request comes amid a flurry of other changes to the historic Near East Side stadium made for the city’s new professional soccer team, Forward Madison FC.
Big Top Events, which owns the team and operates the stadium, has asked to build 11 field-level suites for private party and corporate use during Forward Madison games. The structures would be built in a way that they could be removed at the end of the season.
But on Thursday, city staff recommended that the city Landmarks Commission deny the proposal because it didn’t meet the requirements to alter the historic field and the structures would have been too visible from East Washington Avenue, according to a Planning Division report prepared by Heather Bailey, a city preservation planner.
“While the structures are removable, they are out of character with the landmark property,” she said in her report.
Big Top’s application would need to be approved by the city’s Landmarks and Urban Design commissions, Bailey said.
The Landmarks Commission will take up the proposal Monday.
Since Breese Stevens Field is a historic landmark, the suites would need to use materials that are similar in design, color, scale and appearance to the stadium to be granted a “Certificate of Appropriateness” to move forward, according to Bailey’s report.
Calling it a “bump in the road,” Vern Stenman, president of Big Top Events, said he was flexible with the design and was optimistic that a re-worked proposal would meet the city’s requirements and win approval.
He said he’s proud of the relationship that Big Top — which also runs the Madison Mallards baseball team and hosts the Shake the Lake event — has with the city.
“We’re excited to have a dialogue and find some common ground that allows us to do what we need to do,” he said.
The goal is to create a “suite-type experience,” similar to one a spectator could get at Milwaukee’s Miller Park or UW-Madison’s Kohl Center, Stenman said.
“There’s a need to provide a wide variety of ticket options,” he said.
The 11 suites would be inside two structures made of aluminum and vinyl with glass walls.
The structures would be 15 feet tall at the highest point, about 9 feet above the limestone wall of the stadium running along East Washington Avenue.
Construction of the suites would also mean that the field is surrounded on all sides by spectators at Forward Madison games.
The 15-by-15-foot suites would have furniture, a refrigerator, outdoor seating and access to a concession area by the press box, Stenman said.
The suites would mostly be marketed to businesses to host employees or clients, he said.
One ticket for a 16-person suite would be at the higher end of the team’s most expensive ticket cost of about $90, Stenman said.
But that would also be all-inclusive, coming with beverages and food, he said.
A changing stadium
Stenman said they’d already made changes Thursday to hopefully meet the city’s requirements, win Landmarks Commission approval and better match the stadium’s aesthetic.
The changes include switching from a vinyl roof to a metal one matching the reddish-brown roof of the press box, going from white walls to tan and painting the framing brown to match the stadium’s grandstand on the North Patterson Street side.
“I’m really excited about the changes,” Stenman said. “We actually think it’s going to make a better space than we planned.”
If the suites are approved, they’d go along with numerous other improvements made since the mid-2000s to revitalize the historic stadium.
Stenman said Big Top would pay to build the suites. It also would likely spend about $600,000 for other improvements, such as a team store, new scoreboard and concession equipment, among others.
Big Top has managed the stadium for the city since 2015.
The city also kicked in about $2.5 million last year to pay for improvements, including a new concession area, bathrooms and locker rooms. The money was also used to upgrade the public address system, preserve the facade and increase the seating capacity to 5,000.